Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Good-ish Things

I appreciate a nod to retro and I'm as big a fan of Mad Men as anyone (how great was Sunday's double-episode season 5 premiere?), but when this came in the mail yesterday, I wasn't sure what to think about it:

My reactions, in the order that they occurred to me:

1. Why is she so mad?
2. What, exactly, is L.L. Bean trying to sell with this picture?
3. This reminds me of a funny story Jason's mom tells about the way she used to feel early in her marriage when Jason's dad would take her to the cabin, then abandon her to go fishing all day.
4. No, seriously. Why is she mad? Does she not like fish? Does he want her to clean and cook the fish? Is she mad that her daughter fell asleep? Is it past bedtime? Did he leave without telling her where he was going?
5. That guy is pretty proud of himself, isn't he?
6. What year is it supposed to be here?

(Edited to add Jemma's take: "Oh, I know why she's mad. It's because the little girl is wearing tap shoes to the beach!" They are technically saddle shoes, but she has a valid point.)

I did not find the answers to any of these questions, but I did have a good laugh about the picture with Katie before our run this morning.


Annie has taken to sleeping in her sleeping bag, on top of her bed. I think it's so she doesn't have to make her bed in the morning. That's creative problem-solving, I guess.


Jemma gave herself her entire bath last night: soap, shampoo, conditioner, the whole nine yards. When she got out and I was helping to towel her off, she said, "I'm the happiest yet!"


Sarah and I found ourselves at Target at the exact same time yesterday morning, and the Target employees were not even really trying to hide their amusement at us as we expressed our glee at the new, improved SuperTarget produce section. "Look!"we trilled, "an avocado! At Target!"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good Things, March 2012

Miso salmon, soba noodles, best green beans;

what Jemma does in an airport when she's tired of traveling;

bathing suit butts, mid-air;

doing cartwheels in the grass;

doing a puzzle in your underwear while your parents sneak in a nap;


coming home from getting Shamrock shakes on St. Patrick's Day to find jellybeans from the leprechauns;

digging out an old Cosmo/Sib St. Patty's Day party shirt and wearing it for old times' sake;

spending a day at the beach in March;

and hiking Mount Baldy after plenty of Kilwin's ice cream;

Laura Ingalls Wilder come to life in the 2nd grade wax museum;

bringing all the library books outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon;

drawing a picture of yourself holding up a picture in the kitchen, then asking your mom to take a picture of you holding it up;

little ladies with flowers in their hair;

making marks in the sand, and plenty of memories, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

That's Me in the Corner; That's Me in the Spotlight

The crux of the problem is this: they don't ever sing the song “Jesus Loves Me.”

Annie entered first grade last year, and so along with all-day school and actual nightly homework at our neighborhood public school, she also became eligible to attend weekly catechism at the Catholic church our family attends. According to the schedule at our church, after she attends the Monday night sessions for two years, she’ll make her first communion toward the end of second grade . . . and receive the sacrament of reconciliation at the end of fourth grade, and be confirmed at the end of eighth grade. Sitting in the church basement with the other parents on the first night, holding that schedule in my hands, I got nervous. Suddenly, it seemed we were signing our six-year-old up for years and years of instruction, and I didn’t know if I liked where it was going.

For Jason, who grew up Catholic, it was a no-brainer. He’s the kind of person who keeps a Bible on the nightstand on his side of the bed, the kind of person whose Catholicism is buoyed by years of Catholic school and by an extended family that makes pilgrimages to shrines in honor of the Virgin Mary and has the priest over for dinner regularly. 

For me, it’s a bit more complicated. I’m the kind of person who used to keep a Bible on the nightstand on my side of the bed back when I went on mission trips with my high school youth group and taught Sunday School to the little kids at my church. My faith was buoyed by going to a small, Christian liberal arts college and by an extended family who had been elders and deacons for generations in the Protestant tradition in which I was raised. 

I came to the Catholic church later in life, after I met and married Jason, and it was around this time that my faith started to sink. Oh, I was fortunate enough to go through the RCIA process at a vibrant, progressive student parish in a university town, and my family was never anything but supportive of this turn in my faith journey. I become Catholic because I wanted our future family to share a tradition and because it was more important to Jason than it was to me that we worship in a particular way. But for me, there was always confusion and even outright disagreement about things like indulgences, purgatory, social issues, and Mary. I wasn't thrilled to be welcomed into the Catholic church during the same year that the priest abuse scandal hit the news, either. I found things I appreciated – the quiet prayer after eucharist, the passing of the peace, the emphasis on social justice and compassion for the voiceless in our society – but I also saw things I didn’t understand, things that seemed (not to put too fine a point on it) a little crazy. 

For example, Jason and I put our house on the market about a year after Annie was born.  My in-laws came to babysit for a weekend just as the sign was going in the yard so my husband and I could go to his college roommate's wedding. While we were gone and without telling us, my in-laws secretly buried a statue of St. Joseph upside down in our yard in some sort of Catholic voodoo belief that the statue would help our house to sell. When I found out weeks later that there was an upside-down statue of a saint somewhere in my yard, I was fairly annoyed. I may have actually dug around under our front hedges with a trowel, trying unsuccessfully to locate the statue.

“That is not how God works!” I informed my husband.

“Well, how does God work, then?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered, “but not that way.” (The house took five years to sell.)

Other things rankled. I sat through more than one homily that used fear and guilt to strongly suggest that anyone not in full compliance with every tenet of the church was Doing It Wrong. I saw people putting an awful lot of effort into praying certain prayers in a certain order on certain days, believing in a magical formula for staying out of hell, putting all the emphasis on procedure without any nod to the meaning behind it. I read bulletin articles that barely disguised their contempt for gay people, for other Christian traditions, for certain political parties, for anyone who questioned things that seemed a little off. More often than not, I felt harangued, badgered, scolded, disheartened when I left church. I did not feel loved, empowered, valued, surrounded by grace.

I had become a reluctant Catholic, and I stopped keeping a Bible on my nightstand. I focused instead on the tangible things I could do to be a positive part of a church community. We gave a percentage of our income to the weekly offering. I signed up to bring meals to homebound parishioners. Later, after we had finally moved, I volunteered in Annie’s (and, eventually, Jemma's) Sunday School class, where they made crafts and learned to make the sign of the cross but did not, I noticed, ever hear the sweet little Bible stories of my youth or sing the song Jesus Loves Me. The lack of this song – the very core of the idea I believed a church should be teaching its children – bothered me, but I said nothing. I stopped thinking about things too much.

When I did think about my faith, I found myself less and less sure about anything. If pressed, the most I could say with confidence was that I believed there was a God. Full stop. And that was pretty much all I knew. “I had," as Dani Shapiro writes in her memoir Devotion, "reached the middle of my life, and knew less than I ever had before.” I was suspicious of anyone or any organization who thought they had all the answers about such a mysterious Being. When I looked around at the world and its daily exhibitions of strife, wars and terrorism brought in the name of God; when I noticed people in my own country continuing to use the Bible to discriminate; when I stood in church and wondered why The Powers That Be had decided it was critical for the faithful to bow during a certain phrase of The Nicene Creed but not another, I couldn’t help but speculate that maybe we humans had messed up religion beyond repair, and definitely beyond anything an all-knowing, all-loving God would have intended his people to do in his name. 

Privately, my friends and I admitted this to one another. “Sometimes,” one friend said, sitting on my couch late on a Friday night with a pint of porter, “I think the whole thing is made-up.” This from the granddaughter of a minister, a woman who, like me, spent years of her life learning Bible verses, attending youth group, choosing to learn at a Christian college. Another friend signed on for years of Christian schooling for her children, mostly at the behest of her husband. We agreed, my friends and I, that our families would be horrified at our doubts. We agreed, my friends and I, that we aren’t sure what to tell our children when they ask their wise questions.

Now, as Annie approaches her first communion, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to instruct my daughters in their faith at the exact moment that mine has nearly left me. That first night of catechism last fall, I sat with her, freshly six years old, in a pew in the sanctuary and listened as one of our church deacons talked to the kids about God. I was nervous. I looked down at her, tired from her full day of school and letting me scratch her back, and I was afraid that this church was going to tell her things I would not. I worried about trusting her to a system I'd become suspicious of, worried that she'd learn about rituals without knowing the reasons, worried that the emphasis would be on the wrong things, worried that she'd receive a heaping helping of the infamous Catholic guilt alongside it all.

We've gotten through this last year and a half of catechism, though it hasn't been without its hiccups. I've stood in the hallway and listened to her teacher nearly yell at the children, "What do you do after communion? You KNEEL and PRAY!" in a voice that couldn't be less loving if it tried. I've watched Annie's homework be "Find out how many processionals are in the Mass" and "Make a chalice" but never "Read this Bible passage" or "Write down a question you have." We're grateful, as May 6 approaches, for Annie's godmother, her Aunt Lisa, who has become a very special person in her life this year. We're trying to be joyful and proud to have our seven-and-a-half year-old join our family taking communion each week. We're trying to talk to her about what that really means and why we do it, even though it's mysterious at any age.

But we have resolved to do things differently next year. We are going to home-church-school. And when I ask myself what I would have the girls learn instead, I come back to the verse in the Bible that comes to me most often, unbidden, swimming up through my conscious because it was memorized years and years ago, Luke 10, verse 27:  “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

When it comes down to it, what I want my children to learn about their faith and the faith of our family, muddled and uncertain though it is, is to learn to love. I want them to love a God who loves them back, to love their neighbors, and to love the messy mystery of making sense of the world. I want them to doubt, to wonder, to challenge. They are going to ask their hard and wise questions, and they are going to have to find the answers themselves. And I have stopped believing that those answers can be found in just one place. They're in the Catholic Church, yes, but they're also in the words of Rob Bell and Elie Wiesel, Anne Lamott and C.S. Lewis, in the music of The Indigo Girls and Fernando Ortega and Jason's guitar, in the Children's Bible and Mary Oliver's poetry, in the dunes and in the lake, around our kitchen table. They're in a conversation with my Catholic friend around the corner and in an email from my atheist friend in another state. They're in the song Jesus Loves Me. And I don't have the answers to all of their questions, but it's time to start finding them together.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Since returning from Florida, it's been nearly 80 and sunny here every day. We've been walking around in stunned euphoria: eating ice cream, playing in sprinklers, wearing tank tops, embarking on a night run at 7:15 p.m. wearing shorts and a tank and coming home, sweaty, to drink a Blue Moon on the front steps. Getting back into the groove of regular life has been a little tough to manage in light of the sudden summer environment, and I confess that kindergarten forms may have been hastily turned in at the last minute, I forgot to get my allergy shot for a week, and doing anything besides staying at the playground after school pick-up seems annoying. And though the heat and sunshine for mid-March seems like the tiniest bit of bad karma (like, we might have to pay for it with an April where it rains every day), we are basking in the glory of every warm and sunny moment: Shamrock shakes outside on St. Patrick's Day, a Sunday hiking Dune State Park and picnicking at the beach, dinner eaten on a blanket on the front lawn.

Jemma continues to be her sweet, silly self. She is obsessed with my phone's Siri function and specifically wants to know what Siri's middle name might be. (We have asked; Siri has no reliable answer.) We have her spring conferences at pre-school on Thursday, and we fully expect to hear that she is ready for next year and the full-day challenges that it might bring. She reads more and more words every day, counts well into the hundreds, and loves to be given math problems to solve. (We are still working on her remembering to look before she crosses the street, though . . .)

Annie is, right this minute, at piano lessons, where she is working on Au Claire de la Lune. She has a million questions about everything, all day long, and she spends much of her time doing her hair seven times until the braid looks just right, jump-roping backwards on one foot, and eating adult-sized portions of everything at every meal. She loves writing to her new pen pal, Aunt Lisa, and telling anyone who will listen about how she gets to be a flower girl in her uncle Brett's wedding next winter. (After a mere fifteen years of dating, my brother finally got around to making it official with the woman our girls have always called Aunt Meagan. My mom has possibly not stopped crying tears of joy since the announcement, and nobody is mad that the wedding is going to be in Jamaica, either.)

I'm trying to fit the odd yoga class and lake run around a bit more freelance writing and a bevy of daily phone calls and emails with the list of various people working on our house project, which grows by the day. As of now, we've involved a seamstress, heating and cooling professionals, a dry basement company, a landscaper, an electrician, a painter, and a woman in NY state who makes slipcovers for the Pottery Barn rocker in addition to our general contractor and much help from Connie in the design department. I am looking forward to the final product, though I have no idea when anything about it will be final. In the meantime, I have started re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven't read it since my freshman year of high school. It calms me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recipe: Girl & the Goat Green Beans

At Girl & the Goat a couple weeks ago, my favorite dishes of the many our table shared were the green beans and the cauliflower. I'm becoming a vegetarian! (No; Jason would divorce me.)

Naturally, I had to find the recipe for the green beans ( and then, also naturally, I had to make them twice in a two-week span and take step-by-step photos of the process. I am committed to these green beans, I tell you. They are life-changing.

Girl & the Goat Green Beans

green beans
4 fl oz. oil
green bean dressing
cashews (or another nut if you prefer a different one)

green bean dressing
yields 2 cups
4 oz. lemon juice
5 oz. fish sauce
2 ½ oz. soy
1 tablespoon dijon
3/4 teaspoon sriracha
1/3 oz cloves garlic

combine lemon juice, fish sauce, soy, dijon and sriracha. transfer to blender, add garlic and emulsify with oil.

yield: 1 cup

1/3 cup green bean dressing (from above)
1 cup mayonnaise
whisk together

1. heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan.
2. add green beans and some sliced shallots for flavor.
3. add enough vinaigrette to coat the green beans. let steam.
4. add a handful or two of cashews for flavor. season with salt.
5. transfer to serving dish & drizzle with aioli.
6. serve hot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the first night, we stood in line for our rental car under the Florida stars and watched the palm trees wave around in the breeze. It had snowed that morning here at home and we were just so happy to be someplace warm. Jason struggled with the carseat and finally had to put the top up on the Mustang convertible we thought would be fun for the girls to ride in for four days.

"It's like a convertible!" Jemma said. She had recently risen from her position lying prone across my carry-on with her socks and shoes scattered about the airport floor.

"It IS a convertible," said Annie. We got in and shot down the highway to our hotel, waited around to check in, waited for someone to come bring linens for the pullout couch where the girls would sleep, waited for sleep to come in spite of the kicking and general malaise that comes with sharing a bed in an unfamiliar place. We slept fitfully, wanting to see where we were and what we could do.

On the first morning, we woke up bright and early and walked on the beach while our shadows were still long. We saw two dolphins very close to shore and collected a bag full of shells. (It is easier to love your children when they are running wild on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico than it is at 3:30 a.m. when you have to go in and settle their sleep-fighting.) Then we went back to the pool and swam until lunch. There was a water slide and music and, really, it was all we wanted.

We ate lunch with Jason's parents at their condo and spent the rest of the day with them, swimming more and wandering around downtown Naples, getting frozen yogurt and happy hour drinks on a deck overlooking the water. We tucked sleepy girls in their bed after dinner, and there was no fighting that night, just the hard sleep of children who have been mostly underwater and in the sunshine.

The second day we mixed things up: beach all morning, lunch at our pool, afternoon hopping from the hot tub to the water slide and back to the pool. I went running along the path to the beach before the sun was hot. The girls found a tiny coconut that sank and spent hours diving for it. Jemma dove down to 8 1/2 feet one time and came triumphantly back to the surface, her pink goggles fogged, the coconut in her hand. They had to be literally dragged from the pool every hour or two and forced to drink water and reapply sunscreen. Jason and I lounged by the side in chairs, reading The Sunday New York Times Magazine and Anne Lamott, sipping orange mojitos and water with lemon, eating Chex Mix and almonds, looking around and smiling, cannonballing in from time to time. At 2:30, Jemma asked to go take a nap, so I took her back and we both slept for an hour and a half. We went out to dinner in Old Naples and the girls charmed the acoustic guitar player by requesting Bob Marley and James Taylor. We got hazelnut and chocolate gelato, then watched the sun set from the fishing pier and played frisbee in the leftover light.

The third day Jason and I swam laps in the morning and then, predictably, alternated between the beach and the pool for the rest of the day. He and the girls hiked down to the inlet to watch an osprey catch fish and to hunt for tiny mangrove crabs. I built an elaborate sand castle and river system with them when they returned. We swam in salt water and chlorine and applied sunscreen every hour. Jemma's under eyes and Annie's cheeks still got pink. We went back to our room for lunch and ate leftovers while the girls did cartwheels and played statues in the grass. Late afternoon, we met Jason's parents and their friends for cocktails before leaving the girls with them and eating homemade pasta and clams on our own on 5th St. We went in the hot tub before bed.

The fourth day we went running on the beach and drank coffee by the pool before stuffing all the things into suitcases and wishing we could stay one more day. We swam for one last afternoon at the condo and biked around town while the girls had their toenails painted by Aunt Bonnie. We took one last ride in the convertible back to the airport, and Annie cried the whole way. The girls fell asleep on the plane, and then Jemma took her turn crying (and also refusing to walk) when we landed back at home close to 11:00 p.m., where it was colder and darker than we were used to.

The fifth day we were a little disoriented, a little sun kissed, a lot grateful for what I'd call our best, easiest, most successful family vacation yet.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ice Cream, Skis, and Katy Perry

Since taking the girls to get ice cream at Jersey Junction on the day that it opened, March first, they have subsequently asked to go to Jersey Junction every single day since. This, in spite of the fact that on about day three I told them that if they asked to go every day, I would keep saying no until they stopped asking every day. So here is something you don't know about parenting at the outset: Sometimes you will say no to your children seven days in a row, not because you don't want to do the thing, but because you can't let them become the kind of children who expect to go get ice cream every single day of their lives. They get upset when I tell them no about this, and I say, "Life is hard," and they are not amused.


It was freezing last weekend, so the girls were able to finish out their ski lessons for the year. Annie is officially a waaaaaaay better skier than I am, and Jemma is well on her way. Jemma's New Year's Resolution was to learn to ski. I think she is the the only member of the family who has kept it.


Two days ago, it was sunny and 65 degrees by the time I picked Annie up from school. We stayed for a while at the playground and then came home to play outside some more, where I waged a battle with Annie, who felt sure that 65-degree weather meant she should change into a bathing suit and flip flops, and could we have a picnic outside for dinner? We finally came to terms about appropriate clothing and spent over an hour outside, Rollerblading and scooting and drawing animals on the driveway in chalk. I had forgotten how wonderful and simple it is to do those things, and it gave me hope that spring coming will make everyone a bit happier.


Annie is learning to play "Firework" by Katy Perry on the piano. It is awesome.


House status: electrician wiring done, girls' new bedrooms being painted today and tomorrow, dresser and lamps and light fixtures ordered, curtain-sewing lady coming over to measure today, Jason's seven thousand instruments and piles of dental journals moved to the basement. The girls should be able to move up there in the next couple of weeks. It will be strange to have them on another floor, and I have visions of going upstairs for the first time in a few days and finding the floor covered with Polly Pockets, puzzle pieces, doll clothes, and markers. We are going to need A System. (Does anyone have A System?)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March, Now

And so we've somehow passed the last two weeks or so, filling the not-so-wintry winter with board games, time with friends and family, silly dancing in the kitchen, making giant messes and cleaning them up again. Plus there was a kids-free trip to Chicago (and a very indulgent afternoon at the spa for me, plus too much eating and drinking to mention, though I will mention Girl & the Goat and most especially the green beans we had there, which I am attempting to recreate tonight, and I will also mention that the cocktail Jason had there tasted like my grandpa's pipe always smelled. Appropriately, it was called "Smoking Jacket," and it inspired me to drink a Manhattan later that night at the tiniest bar in the world called The Matchbox, and I blame our friends for all that ensued.)

The end of February looked like this:

(The desserts at Hot Chocolate also deserve a mention. We got the pecan pie solely based on the fact that the menu informed us that all pie crusts were made with bacon fat, and how could that not be the Best! Thing! Ever!? It pretty much was.)

Suddenly it's March, which means the traditional mobbing of Jersey Junction on March first, the day it re-opens for the season:

and, mysteriously, more snow today than we've seen in a couple of weeks. I left the house for yoga at 10:30 a.m., returned at noon, and promptly showered, changed into elastic-waistbanded clothes, and put on my under eye cream, so sure was I that I would not be leaving again. Jason and I spent the day readying our upstairs for the painter who is coming this week to transform the upstairs into Little Girl Sleeping Quarters and toting bags of giveaways and garbage out the door while the girls played some sort of elaborate Hawaiian wedding scenario that involved more clothes changes than I've seen before. Now I'm standing in the kitchen, drinking a Left Hand Milk Stout, perusing catalogs for lamps and rugs, listening to Iron & Wine, grateful for this low-key day and the piles of fresh, folded laundry on my bed, waiting to be put away.